We all have boundaries we don’t want crossed but they can be hard to name or enforce.
There are 2 reasons that come to mind:
- Because saying your boundaries out loud can result in being judged or shamed.
- Having boundaries means there are times you cannot be there to support others because you’ve chosen to support your well-being first.
These are understandable reasons not to state or enforce your boundaries so why bother having them?
Well, without them you lose the ability to be resilient, you’ re prone to burn-out, you’re unable to be there for others (never mind yourself!) and you open yourself to being used and abused.
A boundary, is a gatekeeper. It determines what you allow in and what you keep out.
It’s not only a physical line between you and another person – it’s an emotional and psychological line.
At a time where some of us are going back to the physical office and some of us are starting new jobs, having healthy boundaries is part of what will make our careers fulfilling and a success.
So, how do we build them to be useful?
How to Create Healthy Boundaries
These first steps to creating healthy boundaries aim to build self-awareness and clarity.
They’re only for you. Sharing them happens later.
The benefit of this sequence is that you have the time to be honest about what you want and don’t want without being worried of how you may be judged.
Step 1: Name boundaries and be specific.
Write down what you want and don’t want in work relationships when it comes to your colleagues and boss. Be honest and specific. This list is for you. Even if it feels impossible to actually practice, write it down.
Step 2: State why these are your boundaries.
The aim of this step is to build clarity for yourself on why these are your boundaries. Knowing this will support you in reinforcing them.
Step 3: Name and tame the fear.
Take 1 boundary and name the fear you have in expressing it or practicing it. Start with one that feels relatively easy.
Now, list ways you can prevent the fear from happening or what actions you can take if your fear is realized.
Completing this step allows you to take precautionary measures to ensure your boundaries can be relayed or practiced in a way that is safe and will be accepted without objection.
Repeat this step for your other boundaries.
Know that this step can raise a lot of difficult emotions. Be gentle with yourself.
As you do this exercise, take breaks to process your emotions. Choose to reflect on “easier” boundaries before reflecting on more difficult ones.
Step 4. Practice
Initially, do not practice stating your boundaries in high-stakes situations.
Instead, practice sharing them with people you trust first.
The Benefits of Practice
Practicing helps you hear how you communicate your boundaries verbally. What sounds good in your head can sound unclear and awkward using your outside voice. Practice.
Practicing creates the opportunity for feedback. How did your boundaries land with your trusted person? Use the opportunity to learn and get creative on how you can articulate your boundaries so they can be heard rather than dismissed or attacked.
Practicing building your resilience to reactions. People will react to your boundaries. Practicing helps you learn how to bear witness to reactions while also grounding yourself in order to enforce your boundary in spite of them.
Exercise due caution and always start in low-stakes situations first. Consider sharing your “why.” It can help people shift from defensiveness to understanding.
Tip: If you don’t have a trusted person to practice with, do so by yourself in front of the mirror visualizing the person you wish to speak to. Hearing how you articulate your boundaries will help you reflect and adjust it so you can more effectively convey it to others.
Step 5: Be prepared for pushback. Get curious and connect-the-dots.
There is a high likelihood you will receive pushback when stating and enforcing your boundaries.
How you deal with pushback is important to having your boundaries acknowledged and respected.
When met with objections, ask why there is one.
Also double-check your assumptions of why they exist.
Asking “why” builds awareness for you and the other person on why your boundaries raise objections. Knowing “the why” can help you address their concern. It can also help you connect the dots to how your boundaries actually serve their needs (in addition to yours) and those of the organization! Finally, the reason for the objection may really surprise you! It may have nothing to do with what you’ve assumed. Knowing what underlies an objection allows you to speak to the real issue and accordingly address it.
Asking a plain “why” question can be too much for people. Change it slightly to: Can you help me understand the reason you (insert objection to your boundary)?
Remember, the person hearing may be reactive. Sometimes this has nothing to do with you. They may be having realizations which may make them feel self-judgment or shame. Give them the space for experiencing these feelings while ensuring you are still safe from aggressive behaviour. Do this by preparing to state your boundary or remove yourself from the situation.
Step 6: Reflect and Learn.
This is the step that we can easily skip and yet it yields valuable information.
After you’ve stated your boundary and have it acknowledged and respected ask yourself:
- Does it actually serve me and/or
- Is this boundary getting me the result I want?
If yes, great and if not, keep trying.
The reality is, we rarely state our boundaries perfectly and have it perfectly understood by the other part on a first or second try.
Stating boundaries requires being clear on what they specifically look like in practice, why it’s important to have these boundaries and then communicating them in a way they can be heard.
Remembering the Costs
Know that there are costs in stating and enforcing boundaries or choosing not to.
Speaking up may result in verbal abuse. Not speaking up can result in severe burn-out. Neither one is desirable, so consider actions you can take to allow you to safely but actively practice boundaries.
Give these steps a try.
Remember, we can thrive at work with healthy boundaries.
Would you like this blog, other free tools and exclusive alerts on workshops, trainings, courses and events? Sign-up to my e-mail list here!